Council on Sex Offender Treatment Treatment of Sex Offenders - Juveniles with Sexual Behavior Problems

Sexual abuse of children is a widespread phenomenon but childhood sexual abuse does not predict future sexual aggression. While sexual aggression may emerge early in the developmental process, there is no compelling evidence to suggest the majority of juveniles with sexual behavior problems are likely to become adult sex offenders (Hunter, 2000).

Juvenile perpetrated sexual aggression has been a problem of growing concern in American society over the past decade (Hunter, 2000). According to the 2000 Uniform Crime Statistics published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, juveniles account for a significant number of sexual crimes. Roughly 16% of the arrests for forcible rape and 20-30% of other sexual offenses involved juveniles younger than 18 (Openshaw, 2004) and fifteen percent (15%) of all sexual assaults committed by juveniles occur on school property.

A multitude of issues contribute to sex offending behavior in adolescents. The onset of sexual offending behavior in juveniles can be associated to several factors reflected in their experiences, exposure to violence and pornography, maltreatment, and/or developmental deficits. Some children begin displaying sexually inappropriate behavior with others before they reach ten (10) years of age. Others may copy sexual behavior they have witnessed on the part of older siblings and/or adults. Therefore, early identification, assessment, and treatment are essential for those who have displayed such behaviors.

  • 80-90% of juveniles with sexual behavior problems have had a profound experience with some form of victimization. Approximately 20%-50% of juvenile sex offenders were physically abused and 40%-80% were sexually abused (Hunter, 1998). Rates of physical abuse and sexual victimization are even higher in samples of prepubescent and young females with sexual behavior problems (Gray, 1997, Mathews et al, 1997)
  • 30-60% of juveniles with sexual behavior problems have learning disabilities (Hunter, 2000).

    Juveniles are distinct from their adult counterparts. With adult offenders, arousal and interest patterns are recurrent and intense, and related directly to the nature of the sexual behavior problem. In general, sexual arousal patterns of juveniles appear more changeable than those of adult sex offenders and relate less directly to their patterns of offending behavior (Hunter, 1994). It should be noted that only a minority of juveniles manifest established paraphilic sexual arousal and interest patterns. In understanding this fact, society must recognize the other end of the spectrum; that some juveniles commit predatory sexual offenses and will continue deviant sexual behavior into adulthood. Research suggests that age of onset, number of incidents of abuse, the period of time elapsing between abuse and its first report, as well as perceptions of familial responses to awareness of abuse are all relevant in understanding why some sexually abused youths go on to commit sexual assaults while others do not (Hunter and Figueredo in press).

    Therefore, the earlier treatment is offered, the more likely it is to prevent continued sexual offending. Recidivism data suggests that juveniles with sexual behavior problems are more likely to commit a property crime than another sexual offense. This suggests that juveniles with sexual behavior problems are more similar to juvenile delinquents and other antisocial teens (Openshaw, 2004). Recidivism rates for juveniles are low. Less than 10% of juveniles with sexual behavior problems recidivate with a new sex crime and 30% recidivate with non-sexual crimes (Davis, 1987, Kahn, 1988).

    Last updated April 5, 2010